Kentucky Legislative Hearing Becomes Proxy Battle For GOP Gubernatorial Candidates
FRANKFORT—A state legislative hearing Friday on proposed federal regulations on carbon dioxide emissions became a flashpoint in Kentucky's Republican gubernatorial primary.Lawmakers on an energy subcommittee heard testimony from Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters on how the state must respond to regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency,which seek to lower carbon dioxide emissions in the state by about 17 percent by 2030, with a national target reduction of 30 percent that same year.Calling climate change "a global issue," Peters' presentation included an overview of centuries' worth of climate science to put the EPA regulations into context for the lawmakers, many of whom have taken a hostile stance toward the federal agency since the proposed regulations were first announced in June.By 2040, 57 percent of the state's coal-fired power plants will be retired, which echoed other studies that show Kentucky's reliance on coal will diminish in the future, Peters said.The portion of coal that comprise's the state's energy portfolio will shrink to 78 percent, he said. Currently, that figure is about 90 percent.Lawmakers seized on the opportunity, taking swipes at the Obama Administration over the EPA proposal. They also lamented the economic advantage they believe such regulations will afford China and India, countries that wouldn't be hindered by the regulations, allowing them to command cheaper energy prices.Rep. Jim Gooch, a Democrat from Providence who co-owns a company related to the manufacture of coal mining equipment, couched the likely effect of the regulations in gloomy terms. "We're about to destroy our economy, and maybe our national security," he said.But Peters contended there are other forces than the EPA that are contributing to the decline of coal, namely the prevalence of cheap natural gas and the fact that remaining coal seams are harder and more expensive to mine.Peters said carbon sequestration technology isn't yet viable for commercial application, and that the state's coal-fired power plants cannot at the moment meet the EPA's goal of reducing carbon emissions to 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt hour. According to a recent Public Policy Polling poll, 44 percent of Kentuckians support the EPA's proposed 30 percent targets, with 40 percent opposing and 16 percent undecided.A Coal-Fired Call for ResignationAfter making comments about the devastation that the coal industry's decline has wrought on his district, Rep. Tim Couch, a Republican from Hyden in Eastern Kentucky, called for the resignation of a colleague, Rep. Tom Burch, a Louisville Democrat, over Burch's recent comments about the coal industry.At a panel discussionat the Louisville Forum this week, Burch sparred with GOP House Floor Leader Rep. Jeff Hoover over several issues facing their chamber. As WFPL reported this week, "Burch said state leaders need to look at renewable energy as a future investment instead of job-killer. 'If we could get coal out of the way I'd think we would probably have a lot of good things going here,' he said.'" Incensed by the Louisville Democrat's comments, Couch on Friday called for his colleague's resignation during the committee hearing. "Let's write a letter today," he said. "And I'll sign the letter for Tom Burch to resign, okay?"In a released statement, Hoover attacked House Democratic leadership for their relative silence on Burch's comments. "I appreciate Rep. Couch recognizing our hard working coal miners, their families, and those who have lost their jobs because of the continued assault on coal by Obama," Hoover's statement read.Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo also released a statement: "If we had every representative resign because they disagreed with another member, we'd have an empty chamber."Republicans are attempting an historic gambit to regain control of that chamber after nearly a century of Democratic dominance. Democrats currently maintain a narrow eight seat majority in the state House.House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said Burch was expressing an "individual opinion," and that he will not be asked to resign. "He's not speaking on behalf of our caucus," Adkins said. A message was left with Burch's Capitol office, but has not yet been returned.Gubernatorial Proxy BattleBurch's comments on the future of Kentucky coal are similar to those made last year by Agriculture Commisioner James Comer, a Republican who recently announced his intention to run for governor in 2015. Comer told WFPL'sPhillip Bailey in November 2013 that the state needs to "look beyond" coal.